Barr's Irn-Bru - Supporting Scottish Football

Steven Gerrard’s Going No Where! It’s All PR Spin

Steven_Gerrard

So Steven Gerrard has signalled his intent on playing on for at least one more season beyond this one. He’s even suggested that he may have to move on somewhere else to satisfy his desire to continue as a player.

His statements are all geared to get Liverpool around the table and offer him a new deal. In his interview with the press he says as much

‘As it stands at the moment, I’m here until the end of the season and want to make the most of it. I certainly won’t be retiring this summer. I will play beyond this season. We will have to wait and see if that’s at Liverpool or somewhere else. That’s Liverpool’s decision. If they don’t come then I will see what’s out there.’

He is putting the ball in Liverpool’s court, declaring he wants to stay and it’s up to Liverpool.

Now Liverpool wouldn’t in a million years allow their captain to leave. He’s just about to celebrate the sixteenth anniversary since his Liverpool debut. In the years since then he’s clocked up 678 appearances, scoring 176 goals for the club. The Liverpool star is a huge fan favourite and many a time his teammates count on him to get them out of trouble, even at thirty-four years of age, Gerrard is still a talismanic figure on Merseyside. We also can’t forget that he’s won a Champions League, two FA Cups, three League Cups, a UEFA Cup and a UEFA Super Cup during his Anfield days.

This season his form has been far from terrible. He has been involved in nine matches, scored three times and also picked up one assist. Maybe he hasn’t been king of the Premier League like years gone by but don’t forget the whole Liverpool squad have struggled to make the same impact they had last season.

Plus the player has a great relationship with his current club manager Brendan Rodgers. They continually look at how the captain can best influence games.  Rodgers stated recently…

‘It is something we are looking at as a club. He is still in a real good physical condition, 34 years old, never needs a day’s rest, and this is a genuine superstar, a world-class player consistently for so many years.’

That isn’t a statement from a manager who doesn’t believe in his captain or is looking to replace him! Rodgers believes that Steven can play into his late thirties. It helps that Gerrard has also retired from England duty.

A lot has been made over Gerrard’s ability. People seem to either love him or hate him as a footballer. The fact is this, at one time he was one of the best central midfielders in the world. His influence on games was terrific, his range for passing was beyond decent and his ability to get goals was often vital. These days Gerrard the player is a different animal. He now tries to sit deeper and dictate the play from inside his own half. Even now he still has players marking him. He’s the English, dare I say less talented version of Andrea Pirlo.

So of course Liverpool aren’t going to ditch such an iconic club legend. He may be past his prime but to release him would be like putting down a dog just because he doesn’t run around as much as it used to. The player has been loyal and that will be rewarded, he still offers more than most in a Liverpool shirt and he’s still the fans darling.

I’d fully expect Steven Gerrard to have signed a new contract extension before the year is out. He will be a one club man!

The Tough Situation SFA & Celtic Find Themselves In Over Tonev

SFA

Today the Scottish FA announced that Celtic’s Aleksander Tonev had been found guilty of racially abusing Aberdeen’s Shay Logan and have punished the Bulgarian winger with a seven game immediate suspension.

Like in most situations like these, a lot of debate has been created as things are far from clear. Especially since Celtic have come out backing the player and are appealing against the guilty verdict.

In their statement Celtic said this…

“Racism has no place in football and as a Club for all people, Celtic absolutely abhors racism of any kind.

“This was a very unfortunate case, but the Club has accepted Aleksandar’s explanation that he did not say the words that were alleged to have been said and that he is not a racist.

“We are, therefore, very disappointed by the outcome today and can confirm that Aleksandar will be appealing this decision.”

Now the SFA and Celtic seem to be in a bit of a stand-off which could become very embarrassing for one of the opposing parties.

Evidence could be huge in this saga.

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If the SFA have strong evidence that Tonev (on loan from Aston Villa) was indeed guilty, then Celtic will be extremely red faced to say the least. They will have effectively publicly backed a racist. That would be a PR disaster for the club. Some of Celtic’s support have been questioning the board for a while now and if Celtic were to get this incident wrong, calls for the board to go will only grow and grow. I believe in a case like this, Celtic would have had a representative during any hearing and would have had access to all the relevant evidence. It would also be on the back of the Leigh Griffiths case (where he sang songs against Rudi Skacel) and Celtic struggled with the criticism that came from that incident.

On the other hand, surely the SFA need to come out and tell us what evidence they convicted Tonev on. Some have suggested that the SFA don’t need hard evidence and they can go on balance of probability. That could look weak, especially if it’s one players word against another. In a huge case like this I’d like to think they would have more to go on than just one persons word against the other. Racism is such a strong topic, we can’t have players scared to come out and complain if they’re racially abused. But in fairness for all concerned, we need to have evidence that is backed up with other people or footage. A ban for racism is a huge mark against any player and harmful to their careers. If it turns out that the SFA have messed up here, then quite a few teams and their fans may see it as an ideal time to attack the heart of Scottish football and the people who run the game.

We now need to step back and wait for the SFA to comeback with the reasons for the guilty verdict. If they deem us worthy of that! Then await the findings of any appeal. It is certainly an unsavoury situation but it has to be dealt with correctly and with clear and calm heads.

Celtic Need To Follow Hearts Lead

Heart_of_Midlothian

Heart of Midlothian Football Club have announced that they will become Scotland’s first club to offer all staff at least the living wage. That means the least a Hearts employee can get an hour is £7.65, that’s a full £1.15 more than the current minimum wage.

The announcement has been well received from the clubs fans and anti-poverty charities. As a whole Scottish society should applaud this announcement.

As I have stated in previous blog articles, new Hearts supremo Ann Budge and her regime have been fantastic in setting Hearts in a new direction that will only make the club stronger. The club now listen to the fans and strive to do their upmost in holding strong values that everyone involved can be proud of.

In a her statement Ann said the following…

“Having reviewed the salary structure across all areas of the club, we propose to implement the nationally-approved Living Wage, across all staff, including part-time and contract workers. We have taken steps to register with the Living Wage Foundation thereby formalising our commitment.”

You can view the whole statement on the Hearts website, its well worth a look as Ann Budge shows other football owners how easy it is to communicate with the supporters.

Mrs Budge also has a rant against the use of flares inside football stadiums. I totally agree with her, it’s a deplorable habit that has been creeping into our game far too readily in recent seasons. She warns that the club has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to the use of flares and when the perpetrators are caught they’ll be banned from Tynecastle for life.

This shows that this new Hearts administration isn’t just keen on fan support, they will stand for no nonsense on the strong topics either.

Statements like these are a breath of fresh air and put most other teams in Scotland to shame, especially the Old Firm.

Rangers are once again in a bit of a financial mess, so probably can’t look to deeply at introducing the living wage without a more secure financial footing. But they could look at Hearts and see how fan involvement can enhance club morale and see what good PR is all about. You don’t need streams of press releases and statements to keep the faithful happy. Just have detailed, honest ones every so often!

Celtic have always seemed to be the fairest club in Scotland. Yet they’ve ignored the living wage debate for far too long. A core of the fanbase want it and as a PLC they should have at least looked into by this point and checked the feasibility of doing it. Taking a vote on the subject at the next annual Celtic meeting, is a bit too late in my opinion. As Scotland’s wealthiest club, founded in a bid to help the poor, Celtic owe it to their employees to pay them the living wage. It shouldn’t take Hearts to show them how it’s done on such an issue that has gripped Scottish society, especially with Celtic fans/shareholders demanding it for a few years now!

All Scottish clubs should be doing their best in curbing flare trouble and policing their away support more responsibly. Seats are being ruined up and down the country. What will it take for these fans to realise the dangers? A stadium fire? Clubs need to work better with the police and eradicate this problem!

Well done Hearts. After such a difficult period in your history your club are now flourishing on and off the park and leading by example for others to follow.

Why I Adore The Mourinho And Van Gaal Love In!

Jose&LvG

Never has a hug between two men meant so much too me, than the embrace between Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal last weekend. The pair are old colleagues from years back and showed on Sunday, when their two sides faced each other in the English Premier League, that they clearly had respect and affection for one another.

Now I am not going to lie, I love all the managerial sub-plots that go on in football. Whether it’s Arsene Wenger shoving Jose or Neil Warnock winding up almost every opposite number or a hug that shows respect like the one we saw on Sunday. It all adds to the narrative, building up the drama and suspense.

Why shouldn’t two rival bosses show that they appreciate and like each other before and after a game? Surely in an era where opposition players and managers start fighting over the stupidest things it’s only right to highlight a bond, declare it a good thing and accept it.

This leads me on to another reason why I liked the managerial bromance shown at Old Trafford. It infuriates certain members of the press, who can’t stand anything different creeping into their football. A game that they always try and dictate to and take offence at.

The worst culprits are the Daily Mail and some of their ‘esteemed’ columnists.

A prime example of that ‘we deserve better’ journalism is Adrian Durham. His article on the subject was ridiculous in my opinion. Most of his arguments usually are bit ridiculous to be fair.

He goes on about how this Manchester United Chelsea rivalry is fierce and has been since Roman Abramovich turned up in London about a decade ago.

Was it really that fierce? Jose was extremely respectful of Sir Alex Ferguson and vice versa. In fairness, Adrian touches on that even though it kind of makes his use of ‘fierce rivalry’ in his opening gambit look flimsy to say the least. He forgets to point out that Jose and Louis have had a professional relationship since 1997, a full seven years before this ‘fierce rivalry’ between United and Chelsea began.

You cannot read Durham’s articles and not get the sense that Santa forgot his favourite toy as a child or that he has permanent toothache. Those are the only two logical reasons I can come up with for his constant negative opinion pieces.

Adrian states that Van Gaal has a lot to learn about the Premier League and that rivalry is a huge part of it. Yeah lets tell an experienced, world-class manager (who has been in the managerial game for twenty-three years) how things are done. Louis van Gaal has won the Champions League, the Eredivisie title four times, La Liga twice and the Bundesliga once! I think he understands football well enough. The English game really isn’t that different (the press might be a bit bonkers).

Both bosses are hugely successful and experienced. They know that the title isn’t won or lost in October.

Adrian seems to also point the finger at the Chelsea gaffer Mourinho, stating in his headline that ‘you almost felt the Chelsea boss was happy his old friend got a point‘. Well Jose always sets out to win, to suggest anything else is ridiculous. Also if his side had won or lost I still think he’d have given Van Gaal a bit of an embrace. Let’s not forget that they had given each other an equally cosy cuddle before the game had begun.

Now I personally dislike Durham’s provocative ‘let’s hate everything’ style but it works. It gets his newspaper big hits on their website. It had over 100 shares on social media and had 196 comments (at the time of writing this blog). That’s all that the Daily Mail care about.

Instead of informing the public with newsworthy content, it’s turning into a bit of a bitter blog. Shouting at its readers, telling them what to think.

This new crusade ‘Hands Off in the Box’ is just another pointless piece of poor journalism. ‘Oh lets eradicate pulling and grappling in the box’. They know fine well that the FA won’t look at changing any rules before seasons end. Plus they don’t even want them to change the rules because it would take out the one thing they need and that’s debate. The same can be said when the have similar campaigns against diving and abuse at referees. The fact is they will then come out and shout at us that football used to be a contact sport and then they’ll bait fights between managers and the officials. Lets face it they’ve hired Graham Poll to basically come out and attack refs whenever they get the slightest thing wrong.

Adrian Durham’s bitterness is systematic in the Daily Mail offices. It should really be renamed the ‘Daily Moan’ and rebranded as a blog not a newspaper. To be honest they are far from being the only media organisation to be heading down that road, they are actually in the majority.

But instead of hating it, I still read it. Not for the information, just for the laughs. But a hit is a hit right? So they won’t mind a jot! Shame that  professionalism comes at such a small price these days.

As for Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho… What should they do next time they meet? I will leave that up to them.

 

 

My Call For Neuer To Win Ballon d’Or

Bdo

So once again FIFA have announced a group of candidates that they feel worthy of the prestigious FIFA Ballon d’Or award.

Here are the nominees…

Gareth Bale (Wales/Real Madrid), Karim Benzema (France/Real Madrid), Diego Costa (Spain/Chelsea), Thibaut Courtois (Belgium/Chelsea), Angel Di Maria (Argentina/Manchester United), Mario Gotze (Germany/Bayern Munich), Eden Hazard (Belgium/Chelsea), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden/PSG), Andres Iniesta (Spain/Barcelona)
Toni Kroos (Germany/Real Madrid), Philipp Lahm (Germany/Bayern Munich) Javier Mascherano (Argentina/Barcelona), Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona), Thomas Muller (Germany/Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Germany/Bayern Munich), Neymar (Brazil/Barcelona), Paul Pogba (France/Juventus) Sergio Ramos (Spain/Real Madrid) Arjen Robben (Netherlands/Bayern Munich), James Rodriguez (Colombia/Real Madrid), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/Real Madrid), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany/Bayern Munich), Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast/Manchester City).

Now I don’t usually give two thoughts on this award. It’s an excuse for Sepp Blatter and Co to blow smoke up their own backsides and parade around with all the top talent.

Also, like La Liga, its been a very predictable two horse race for the top prize. With Barcelona’s Lionel Messi up against Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Obvious both a wonderful players and stars of this generation but sharing the award in the last six years (if you include the Ballon d’or before the merge) has been very tedious.

But this year seems different (just like in La Liga where Atletico took the title) a new face may have entered the field of competition.

See I think this year we should forget about the creative wizards like Ronaldo (who once again failed to deliver at a World Cup) and Messi (who by his own standards had a disappointing year at the Nou Camp) and recognise the fact that goalkeepers can be just as important with their performances.

Manuel_NeuerGermany

Germany and Bayern Munich keeper Manuel Neuer had a terrific year in between the sticks. His saves helped Bayern to another Bundesliga title as well as the DFB-Polka and the Fifa World Club Cup. The stunning shot-stopper also bagged himself the German footballer of the year award for 2014.

He also had a fantastic World Cup in Brazil, helping his nation secure the top prize. His performances also saw him awarded the Fifa World Cup Golden Glove after he kept four cleansheets in his seven appearances for Nationalelf (including in the final against Messi’s Argentina)

For Bayern, he was an ever present in their 52 matches in all competitions in 2013/14 and he never let his side down. At twenty-eight the Gelsenkirchen born goalie is only getting better! Which is scarily exciting!

His style is easy on the eye too. Yes his saves can be fantastic but his ability to act as sweeper quiet high up, inside his own half is extraordinary. It allows the defences he plays with more room and the chance to squeeze opponents further into their own territory. His stature and ability to rush out also puts the opposing strikers under immediate pressure and causing them to rush into making mistakes.

Just adding his name with the likes of Ronaldo and Messi shows you how great he’s been over the year as goalkeepers never usually get a look in with these individual awards. But its hard to overlook Neuer’s outstanding ability to keep cleansheets and help his sides to victories and keep out the likes of Messi and Co.

To show you how hard it is for a keeper to get recognised for such a trophy, only one stopper has ever won the Ballon d’Or before and that was the superb Lev Yashin back in 1963! Wonderful goalies like Peter Schmeichel, Gianluigi Buffon, Oliver Kahn, Dino Zoff and Iker Casillas have all been overlooked in the past.

Surely it’s about time the footballing world sees sense and recognises that having a great goalkeeper can be just as important in gaining ultimate success. Manuel Neuer is a fantastic, consistently word class goalkeeper that has won the lot as a number one.

For once we have to remember that football as a sport goes beyond the scoring of great goals and we should honour a man equally capable of preventing those great goals!

That is why I would vote for Bayern Munich’s German World Cup hero Manuel Neuer! He deserves it!

Mike Ashley/Rangers: The Pros & Cons

Rangers

So today Rangers confirmed to the London stock exchange that they had accepted a loan from Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley. The offer was seen as more favourable than Brian Kennedy’s last minute offer and it remains to be seen if anything will happen with Dave King’s long term offer of investment, which King says is still on the table.

In my opinion Ashley’s deal has scuppered any King involvement, as I believe Ashley has made a bid for ultimate control at Ibrox. That seems evident now Graham Wallace and Philip Nash have been ousted and Mike Ashley has permission to replace them with his own men, as per the loan agreement. Former Newcastle managing director Derek Llambias has been heavily tipped for one of the roles.

Now whether or not Ashley can actually become the new Rangers owner is up for debate. It’s a topic that is full of pitfalls and I am glad to point you in the direction of STV Sport as Grant Russell has done a fantastic job looking into the facts about whether or not Ashley can own both Rangers and Newcastle.

But be in no doubt, Ashley’s spectre now looms large over Ibrox and he’ll have a huge say on what happens now with the Glasgow outfit.

With that in mind, I thought I’d look at the pros and cons for Rangers with Ashley involved.

Now its funny because for many of the supporters some of the pros will also be seen as cons.

For example, a link up with Newcastle Utd could be both a pro and a con.

Rangers could get talented youngsters up on loan and get good deals on fringe players who have English Premier League experience. Rangers would also benefit from Newcastle’s contacts and scouting system. At the moment Murray Park is void of any scouting team capable of using any sort of imagination.

But then if Rangers bring through an exciting talent or buy a player who goes beyond their potential and these stars attract interest from bigger European or English sides. I’d imagine Newcastle would get an option on these players on cheaper prices. They would then sell them on a year or two later for a huge profit! Rangers could then become a feeder club for the English side.

As Rangers board member Sandy Easdale says “Mike’s a very wealthy individual“. He can certainly help Rangers out as they need finances now just to survive till the end of the season without threat of administration. But will he spend to keep the fans happy? Nope. It’s another pro and con. Ashley will bring financial stability but won’t go beyond that. In a way it would actually benefit Rangers to be run without being over the top with ambitions.

A pro could actually be Ashley’s goals and ambitions for Rangers as they would differ from Newcastle. At St James Park the yearly aim seems to be that they survive in EPL and keep that huge TV revenue coming in. Mike won’t pay over the odds to challenge for a ‘Top Four’ finish as its an extremely costly exercise and even after a huge spend you’re not guaranteed getting that Champions League spot as Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, Man Utd, Man City and Liverpool will also spend big in a bid for those same places. The Toon management will often see the cup competitions as a distraction from league survival and so they don’t really try and win anything. Understandably that infuriates the Newcastle fan base.

In Scotland, the aim for an ‘Ashley Rangers’ would have to be Champions League football, thus challenging Celtic for the league championship. Getting into Europe’s elite competition is the main way for the Old Firm sides to make decent money. To assemble a squad able to challenge Celtic for that Champions League spot would be easier and cheaper for Ashley, than it would be to get Newcastle into the Champions League.

The Rangers fans would obviously prefer a man with an affinity for the club. Ashley will manage things from afar and really won’t do anything that hampers his own business ideas and goals. That can easily infuriate the Gers support as it has in Tyneside. Fans want to have dialogue with the people running the club and that probably won’t happen at Ibrox.

Any lucrative deals on offer through club merchandise, advertising and even naming rights to Ibrox will probably go into Mike’s pocket first before he lets Rangers have what they need to get by. He already owns the stadium naming rights, buying them for just £1 from former chief executive Charles Green! Ashley’s company Sports Direct also have the rights to sell the Rangers merchandise in their stores. With Ashley’s power grab almost complete its hard to think of Ibrox without Sports Direct advertising boards encasing the stadium and for a cheap price (especially if Gers are back in top tier), if not for free (Just like at St James Park). Its well known Sports Direct love the exposure they get from their association with Newcastle Utd. But surely this sort of cosy deal could be counter productive for Rangers.

Rangers have been a PR disaster in the past few years and to be honest that probably won’t be enhanced with Ashley involved. During his tenure in charge of the ‘Magpies’ has been full of PR blunders; sacking fan favourite Kevin Keegan, dealing with Wonga, arguing with fans and banning the local press being just a few of the clubs PR problems. If Rangers are to progress, then they need to be transparent and in contact with the fans.

Will that happen with Ashley and his hired board? I seriously doubt it.

All in all, Rangers are in a better position than they were in yesterday. The business needed investment and Ashley can provide that. He should also be able to bring stability to the club. That might not be enough to entice the Gers support, who will look on with worry.

Ibrox may now become void of too much ambition but look what happened when Sir David Murray chased the dream! Ashley’s regime may bring in a boring and bitter era. Can the fans back such a regime? Only time will tell, but I am inclined to think not. So the civil war will continue.

 

Saido Berahino: Is He Really Worth £25m?

Saido_Berahino

So after a fine start to the season, West Bromwich Albion’s (WBA) scoring sensation Saido Berahino has been linked with moves to both Liverpool and Tottenham. According to the press West Brom’s valuation of their player is a whopping £25m!

Is Berahino really worth that much? 

Well firstly a player is only worth what the selling team is willing to sell him for. Then you have to wait for a buyer to match that price tag. So if WBA are adamant that they want that figure and a team then offer them £25m, then he’s obviously worth it in the eyes of the moneymen who matter most. (Supposedly Spurs believe he’s worth around £15m.)

You have to factor in his age. Saido is only twenty-one years old and has bundles of potential (only Alan Shearer & Franny Jeffers scored more for England’s u21s). His form this season has been wonderful with seven English Premier League (EPL) goals in nine appearances, only Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero have scored more this term. That sort of form from a striker always has top teams foaming at the mouth, even if they don’t necessarily need a forward. So an in-form EPL striker always sees a spike in their value, when the goals are flooding in.

The fact he’s English and already established as a Premier League striker adds to the cost. You always seem to pay premium prices on English league talent. Just look at the Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale world record deals. For a youngster doing well with a smaller EPL side there are plenty of expensive examples; Andy Carroll (£35m), Phil Jones (£16.5m-£20m), Jordan Henderson (£18m) and Luke Shaw (£30m). All in all they probably pay between £5m and £10m extra just based on their passport and which league they play in. The fact is teams firmly established in the EPL get huge amounts of cash from TV revenue and sponsorship, so don’t need to accept every offer that comes there way.

It can’t be forgotten that Saido also has a fine skill set too. He’s more comfortable playing through the middle although he can operate on the right wing. His finishes are composed and instinctive, he’s also confident enough to take the set-pieces. Berahino also possesses a decent turn of pace and his runs can also create space for teammates to run into.

I doubt WBA would really only do business for £25m. A figure in between their £25m and Spurs £15m valuation would be more likely in my opinion.

I can definitely see why Liverpool and Tottenham would be interested in Saido Berahino, especially when you look at his form and their strikers inability to consistently score at the moment. But for the player, I think he’d be better rejecting any overtures this winter as I still think he’s better off remaining at the Hawthorns.

Why?

Simple, he still needs to get a full season consistently scoring under his belt. He also started well last season but then faded away at the turn of the year. A lot of that was down to Steve Clarke’s sacking and Pepe Mel coming in. New boss Alan Irvine has managed to get Saido playing with confidence again and its helped his form no end. Also the striker has more chance of playing first team football week-in week-out at the Baggies. At Anfield or White Hart Lane he can easily be dropped for little to no reason at all.

I think his next big ambition should be getting into the senior England squad. If I was Roy Hodgson I’d select him for the international fixtures in November against Slovenia and Scotland and see how he copes in that enviroment. Then see how he gets on in next summers u21 European Championships.

So is he worth £25m? Not in my opinion but after WBA paid £7m for Victor Anichebe I am no longer surprised by any transfer fee. I am sure he could be a decent signing for £18m. But for the players sake, I hope he doesn’t rush into any move!

 

West Ham On Song This Season

WHU

I surely wasn’t the only one that predicted that West Ham United would get something from their encounter with champions Manchester City, although I din’t see them getting all three points.

Part of it was down to City, who have struggled to dominate in the league as they have done in the past. Plus they look vulnerable after midweek away trips in the Champions League. They lost a two goal lead last Tuesday in their 2-2 draw with CSKA and I bet the trip back from Moscow wasn’t a pleasant one for Vincent Kompany and co!

But today’s result wasn’t all about City’s failings. West Ham have preformed well this season and now surprisingly occupy a spot in the ‘Top Four’. As a unit they worked together and everyone did the jobs they were allocated. They worked hard, covered every blade of grass and threw themselves in front of every ball.

Don’t get me wrong, at times West Ham were on the ropes but they kept their mental strength and managed to ride their luck a little too. But as the saying goes ‘Its better to be lucky than good‘ sometimes. West Ham’s hard work and endeavour meant that they deserved the luck that went their way this afternoon.

Even during the heavy spells from Man City, West Ham United were still able to cause problems with quick counter attacks.

So how have West Ham turned things around after a disappointing season last term?

Well manager Sam Allardyce has bought well in the summer and has the players playing the ‘Big Sam’ way. Now when I say that I don’t mean any disrespect and I’m not saying they are long ball merchants. See Allardyce is like Tony Pulis, he sees the players he has at his disposal and gets the most out of them. His teams are efficient, direct and in your face.

They also have skill. For me, Morgan Amalfitano has a talismanic influence about him similar to that of Paolo Di Canio and Eric Cantona. His creative performances and goals against Liverpool and Man City have really lifted the crowd. Also having a homegrown talent in Mark Noble gives the fans an extra boost.

The defence that started against City: Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, James Collins and Winston Reid were superb in battle. The up and coming full-backs worked their lines well and  held a defensive discipline that often goes out of the window in exciting ties such as these. Reid and Collins were terrific, lunging into last minute tackles and blocks. The back four fashioned a defensive wall superbly as a group and worked their socks off. When the ball went beyond them then keeper Adrian was usually on hand with a good save!

Stewart Downing has started well this season with a goal and three assists to his name. His performances for the ‘Hammers’ have led to Allardyce claiming “I don’t think there is anybody playing in midfield that is better than Stewart Downing“. Cheikhou Kouyate looks to be a talented holding midfielder who should only improve when he gets more game time in England.

Up top, West Ham have found a good partnership in new signings Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia. Both work hard, defending from the front. Sakho will find himself in at right back and even in his own penalty area just to help out his teammates. Between them they have eight Premier League goals this campaign, with Senegalese man Sakho grabbing an impressive six goals in his last six games! Those are striking stats that West Ham’s fans have been crying out for. Even back up hitmen Carlton Cole and Mauro Zarate have helped the Hammers cause with a few goals.

Things may get even better, if and when Andy Carroll comes back into the fold. He isn’t the main star anymore and doesn’t have that pressure around his neck either. Carroll on his day can offer West Ham valuable strength, goals and a quality target-man, but he just needs to play more!

The star player against Man City was Alex Song. The man on loan from Barcelona was inspirational in the heart of midfield, pulling the strings and helped keep Yaya Toure quiet. His passing is extremely impressive as his awareness to cut out opposition passes. To be honest, when Song’s in this type of form its hard to see why Arsenal didn’t try and re-sign him. But Sam Allardyce and his ‘Irons’ have benefited. They just have to hope the Cameroonian can keep his cool and doesn’t switch off during games as he’s done in the past.

Obviously West Ham’s victories over Liverpool and Manchester City have been fantastic for morale and get the fans jumping. But by consistently getting positive results over the likes of QPR, Burnley, Hull and Crystal Palace the Hammers have propelled up the table. That consistency needs to continue to keep them there. But Big Sam has West Ham United believing again and a top half finish could be  on the cards if they can keep the momentum going!

Arsene Wenger: Irritated Not Sexist

Arsene-Wenger

So I watched Arsene Wenger being interviewed by the BBC’s Jacqui Oatley after his Arsenal side were held at home by Hull City in a 2-2 draw. Wenger was obviously not in the best of moods, his side had failed to win after all. Yet after watching the post match chat I didn’t think much more of it.

But to my amazement The Guardian and The Metro ran stories claiming that Wenger was patronising, rude and possibly sexist (I believe that’s why the Guardian kept telling us that Oatley was a female reporter). Check-out Kirsten Schlewitz’s piece on SB Nation where she questions the blog in the Guardian her analysis of it is well written and gives a different twist to the tale.

The Metro’s story was just easy copy taken from Twitter comments. You can always find offended people on Twitter no matter the subject, you don’t always find insight or sensible conversation. I also dislike and mistrust any story that has Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed as a source.

My issue is this, was the interview abnormal?

Nope.

Was he rude and patronising?

I think rude is a bit strong, more aloof. I also didn’t get the feeling he was being patronising. I think it was funny that he claimed that she misheard him right before he misheard her next question.

Football managers are often grumpy and irritated after squandering points. They then have to face the media and listen to questions that bring up their failings and demanding answers on why the team struggled. Now I obviously see why the journos ask their questions but common sense shows that football managers are not going to be happy answering them, especially straight after a disappointing result.

Analysing the interview, Jacqui loses Wenger on the question about Hull’s defending. She has quickly tried to condense Wenger’s previous answer and he feels she has then put words in his mouth. It clearly niggles him. I also didn’t like her question about fans questioning the lack of signing a defender or midfielder, for the simple reason that fans are never happy and some will never be happy. I’d have preferred it had she just asked ‘should you have signed another defender or defensive midfielder?‘. It’s also too easy to blame all defensive mistakes on those positions. Any player can switch off and cost their team points.

That said the interview wasn’t any different from any other post match exchange from most weekends.

Was Wenger being sexist? 

No! He would have been just as edgy with a male interviewer. As I’ve already said most managers have frosty or tense conversations with journos after difficult matches. Especially if they query that managers decisions or their team. Sir Alex Ferguson was notorious for it. Often being curt, criticising the interviewer and then giving them a patronising ‘well done’ at the end, if it went his way.

I agree with Kirsten’s conclusion that it seems that a lot of this debate has been sparked just because a female was involved rather than look at the whole situation without an angle. If they did that then they would have came up with the fact that we’ve all known for a while now, football managers can be easily annoyed and rude regardless of the journalists gender.

As a press we should be dealing with the more important aspects of football and not trying to make issues out of nothing just for hits!

You Can’t Blame Everything On Balotelli

Mario Balotelli

So it seems like Mario Balotelli can do nothing right, again! The Italian international striker has hit the headlines for swapping shirts with Pepe at half-time as Liverpool were losing 3-0 to Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of the phenomena of swapping shirts during the break but it’s been creeping into European football for a few years now. This isn’t the first time nor will it be the last time we will see it either. Obviously Brendan Rodgers and possibly Steven Gerrard will pull Balotelli aside and point out to him that its severely frowned upon at Anfield. That should be a start and end of the matter.

Now let me add that I think Mario was wrong in swapping shirts with an opponent at that time, especially with his team three down and in a position where fans could see the exchange taking place. But it didn’t cost his team those three goals and it isn’t really the biggest headline of the night.

But the problem is, the media love to have a bit of Balo controversy in their pages. They were at it even before his summer transfer from Milan to Liverpool could be completed. Stating that the English club had inserted a good behaviour clause into the twenty-four year old’s contract (a fact his agent has denied). The press have also went to former managers and getting their opinion on Balotelli often going with the headline about this being ‘His last chance!’.

Now the £16m man hasn’t had the best of starts since moving to Anfield. He hasn’t gelled into the system or scored the required amount of goals. But surely he needs time to settle in at a new club. His fourth in four years!

He had a miserable summer with some of his own nation blaming him for his countries failures at the World Cup in Brazil. Plus his boyhood club AC Milan sold him and he once again had to leave Italy for England (a country he has had concerns about in the past).

At Liverpool the whole squad have been poor by last seasons standards. They have brought in a number of new players and no longer have talisman Luis Suarez to rely on. They have also missed the scoring exploits of Daniel Sturridge, who has been injured much of this campaign. So even more pressure has been heaped on Mario’s shoulders. But it can’t be the Italians fault that the teams defence has been leaky this term.

Now obviously Mario has to improve with his all round game play. He also needs to start getting amongst the goals.

But can that happen when all those around him struggle? Can it happen whilst he gets the blame for every little wrongdoing?

I doubt it.

Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool players and the ‘Reds’ faithful need to back Mario Balotelli and show him their full support. If you go down the road of making him the scapegoat, then how can you expect anything better from him?